Monday, February 28, 2011

"Sasha": film about immigrant family in Germany, with a troubled but gifted young pianist

Sasha” is the third foreign language film I’ve seen in the past two weeks about immigrants in Europe, and the range of social tensions that can ensue. It’s the second from Germany, and the second from Strand Releasing (not the same pair). This film, directed by Dennis Todorovic (and production company EastArt), has a Serbian or otherwise Balkan family living as permanent workers in Cologne, Germany, but returning regularly to the homeland. The father Vlado Petrovic (Predrag Bjelac) needs autocratic, patriarchal control of his family to keep his own marriage intact; this family includes his two young adult sons Sasa (Sasha Kekez) and Boki (Jasin Mjumjovic). The more conventional Boki enrages him by getting a shoulder tattoo, and early on there’s a foreshadowing argument with Dad over who “owns” Boki’s shoulder!

But it’s Sasa who makes it interesting. Vlado begrudgingly lets Sasa pursue a possible career in piano. But Sasa loses his head when he falls in love with his thirty-something gay piano teacher, German native Gebhard Weber (Tim Bergmann) and becomes jealous when Gebhard is about to leave on a professorship in Vienna.  In the meantime, Sasa can feign heterosexuality by befriending violin student Jiao (Yvonne Yung Hee). But Boki will get interested in her for real, all of this bemusing to good old dad.

Sasa even (with the curious help of Jiao) "follows" Gebhard to a gay disco, where a brawl ensues.  In fact, in my own experience, fights or "trouble" in gay bars are very rare; I've seen only one fight in my life, and that was in London in Soho in 1982 (the Bobbies came). 

In the course of all this emotional turmoil, Sasa “fails” a piano audition, where he plays the first movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. He blacks out near the end of the Exposition, and the committee lets him pick up again, and then he stumbles in the Development. I don’t know if this is how pianists could have blackouts, like a CD getting stuck. I once got caught in a loop in a piano festival playing a Schumann song without words.  The movie has other music, including the Moonlight Sonata and Mozart Turkish. The young man who follows Sasa in the audition hall starts playing the Liszt Dante Sonata (a favorite of Washington DC pianist Thomas Pandolfi).

The “audition” issue was central to the WB television series “Everwood”, where piano prodigy Ephram (Gregory Smith) walks out on an audition at Julliard because of a dispute with his father, a curious parallel to this film.

The movie builds toward a dangerous and yet ironic climax, which need not be spoiled here.

The actor who plays Sasa (born in Germany but with a Serbian name) carries the part with great charisma and athleticism. Pianists have to be strong, much stronger than some look; but the actor here could almost be a match for Tom Welling.  You get the feeling that such a person would be more stable than the character is. The intimate scenes (between Sasa and Gebhard) could be taken even “slower” than they are, and become more effective. 

The film pre-booked on Feb. 22 and has a “street” date March 22. 

I guess I’m game for even more movies about young musicians and composers.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Lifetime or HBO make a documentary about the tragic loss of young violinist Tyler Clementi.

Strand’s website for the film is here.

Most of the film is in German, with subtitles a bit hard to see; but German is normally the easiest "foreign language" for me to watch without titles (as when I am in Europe). It seems almost like English here. 

YouTube from “Trailers”. 

Pictures: my own "life" (not from film), but they would have fit. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the distributor. 

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